We’ve got quite a team of MBA admissions experts here at Admissionado, full to the brim with helpful advice for applicants. Rather than keep it to themselves (that wouldn’t be very fair, would it?), they are going to share their tips and tricks right here, every month. This month they took a break from assisting their clients to shine a little light on the application essays.
Namely, the biggest mistakes that applicants make when crafting those suckers. So, what should you avoid at all costs when you get down to writing?
The biggest mistake is writing a generic essay that is not tailored to a specific school. When you can replace “School A” with “School B” throughout the essay and it doesn’t sound funny, you’ve got what I like to call the “shoe-horn essay.” The reason schools have you write these essays is to find out why exactly you’re so keen on attending their MBA program and not just any MBA program. And when you are competing with thousands of other candidates, some of whom will do a flawless job of convincing admissions that all of their future hopes and dreams rest on getting admitted, well, you better hope that at the very least you didn’t forget to change the name of the school when using your HBS essay for Wharton (which i’ve seen…TWICE!!)
“Ignoring the emotional aspect of their application” – Candidates often approach their applications from a technical aspect, working on getting out impressive stories and great numbers and so on. And this is important, of course! But even more important is to never forget that the AdCom readers are people. This application is your chance to make them feel, to
excite them about your goals, to touch them with your stories, to move them with your dedication to others, to enlighten them with your wisdom. So, when you are done writing your essays, look at them once again, and see how they make you FEEL.
Relying on corporate-speak to sound sophisticated. The Admissions Committee wants to know who you are as a person, not about how your client “achieved operational synergies that allowed them to leverage best practices.” That tells them nothing.
One of the worst mistakes that an applicant can make is focusing too much on the technical details, and letting those details overshadow their personality and story telling. No one wants to read about the tactical details of your specific job (i.e. “we were assigned to analyze and provide quantitative reports on the nature of the chemical process” – boring!!). It doesn’t tell the reader anything about you! I want to read a story where the applicant is the star, and the job details are simply simply the supporting cast.
The biggest mistake is not realizing that an essay is not really an “essay” at all, but an opportunity to REVEAL who you are as a PERSON and as a PROFESSIONAL. This has to be done in a PERSONAL STORY format, from your PERSONAL POINT OF VIEW, illustrated with ANECDOTES, and with INTELLECTUAL and EMOTIONAL layers. Like all great stories, the most compelling essays are narratives that DRAW YOU IN, get you CAUGHT UP in the action, and RESOLVE themselves in an intellectually and emotionally fulfilling way.
Applicants attempting to make themselves appear superior by putting down another individual. It’s a big no-no that adcoms will not take lightly. MBA programs want individuals who are problem solvers, not finger pointers. If an individual was responsible for causing issues, then focus on the actual issues themselves.
To forget that the folks reading their essays are living, breathing human beings, with lives, loves and interests of their own, who read literally thousands of these every year. They don’t want to hear the same blah blah again and again; they want to get to know you… personally. Let the spark in your eyes and the passion in your heart come through your words with candor and flair. Use self-deprecating humor to your advantage in a setting where so many take themselves waaay too seriously. And if you ever find yourself telling them what you think they want to hear, tear the essay up and go for a walk!
Not having an destination for where you want the Admissions Committee reader to arrive is a recipe for mediocrity. This means you should have a conscious agenda for what you want the reader to come away with, like: “This woman can make lemon-aid out of lemons, leap tall buildings in a single bound, and she is going to make herself rich while ridding the world of disease – wow, she could make our school famous!”
The biggest mistake an applicant can make when writing admissions essays is to focus on tactical and task-oriented achievements versus strategic or thought-oriented achievements. Business schools want leaders! Essays about creating access databases or building excel models won’t cut it. Schools want to know how you identified, segmented and served the markets in those databases and models.
Got that? Good.